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Cable Snake – How to assemble a pedalboard cable snake

Getting all signal and power connections up and running on stage can prove problematic in some instances, which is why we have come up with our Custom Boards Cable Snake. Our cable snakes have proven very popular, which is no wonder if you take a look at all the advantages a cable snake can offer a gigging musician:

  • Fast and easy connection and disconnection of your pedalboard.
  • All your cables – guitar signal, FX loop, amp channel switching, MIDI, and power supply – are bundled in a single rugged and clean strand running between your amp and your board.
  • The strong cable sock protects all your cables from damage, even when you drive heavy equipment racks across it.

A six-metre snake will serve as our example, which will carry your output signal, the AC power for your board, and a potential remote control cable, from the front of the stage back to your amplifier.

Because we use only the most appropriate materials for making our cable snake, there will be no audio interference inside the snake, even though it is a common misconception.

For a finished six-metre snake you’ll need:

– Six metres of audio cable

– Seven metres of AC power cable

– Five metres of cable sock

That’s right, you need a longer piece of AC cable and a shorter piece of cable sock to end up with the desired length of cable snake.

This is true regardless of the final length of your snake. Your AC cable has to have enough length to comfortably reach the floor at the amplifier end and enough slack to reach inside the pedalboard without cable sock on the top. If you’re using a full stack you can add additional half metre for already added extra length for the power cord. In the end, it is far easier to cut something off, should you feel your AC cord is too long after all, than having to redo the complete snake due to an insufficiently long power cable.

Measuring and preparing cable snake

  • Take a tape measure and measure off one metre on the top of the table. Mark that metre using coloured sticky tape.
  • Measure lengths of six metres for all the signal leads you require – like pedalboard output, amp switching, or audio cables for an FX loop.
  • Cut off seven metres of AC cable.

    If you use an older Cioks power supply, you will have to use a cable with a cloverleaf (IEC C5) connector, because this connector type isn’t available as an accessory.

    If you are using Voodoo Lab Pedal Power X4 or Cioks 4 power supplies in your pedalboard you can order a longer ungrounded AC-cable, because IEC C7, also known as figure-8 or shotgun connector isn’t available as an accessory.

    Should the AC cord in one of our cable snakes be too long for your rig, you can shorten it by cutting the cable at the Schuko-plug end, and feeding rest of it into the cable sock. Then you can connect a new Schuko-plug to the cable, following the instructions given in this guide.

    • Cut off five metres of cable sock. Use a cigarette lighter right away to melt the fibres around the cuts, otherwise the mesh will start to unravel.
    • Use electrical tape to tape off the board-facing tips of the cables meant for the cable snake. The ends have to be as smooth as possible, otherwise they will catch in the cable sock and rip its inner surface.

    • Lay out and straighten all the cables. You can’t feed looped or tangled strands into the sock.
    • Feed the whole bunch of cables into the cable sock in one go. You have to go very slowly, taking care to straighten the expanding sock, so it will fit on easier. Proceed slowly and calmly.

      Once you’ve fed the cables successfully into the sock, and the bunch has come out at the other end, straighten the sock material once more and remove any kinks. Then roll up the half-finished cable snake cleanly to wait for the next step.

      You can use the Custom Boards Safety Strap to coil up the cable to keep it tidy and controllable during the building process. Both ends of the snake should have equal lengths of cables sticking out from under the sock.

          Soldering cables

          The recommended temperature for this kind of work is 350 degrees Celsius. If you’re still a bit unsure about your soldering skills, you could drop the temperature down to 300 C. Seasoned soldering professionals can use higher settings.



          It is very important to solder in a room with sufficient ventilation. Soldering tin contains some lead, which you don’t want to breathe in. Use a table fan blowing across the table/workbench at an angle – you want the air to circulate, without the fan blowing straight on the solder joints.

          The basic idea behind soldering is not just to solder the cable and the component together with tin, but pre-tinning the soldering lug and the conductor strand first, and then connect the tinned surfaces together using heat iron. Understanding this is crucial if you want to make solid connection. The ideal practice for making the joint is to heat the components and let the tin melt on their surface and try not to touch tin with your iron tip. This can be tricky, because too much heat in the components can make cable insulations melt.

          The second important factor for achieving a good solder joint is keeping cable and component perfectly still until the tin is completely cooled off. Do not blow on the hot connection to make it cooler as it will ruin your nicely made solder joint. Try also not to overheat any surface – if you have trouble with a certain solder joint, take a break of a couple of minutes and return to the joint once the surface has cooled off. Too much heat can also lead to component failure or shorts, which might lead to other problems further down the line.

          Remember, the tip of a soldering iron stays very hot for some time after switching off your soldering station, so be careful when laying it back to its holder.

          Custom Boards uses Neutrik-plugs for all their cable snakes and guitar cables. The side connecting into the amp will be a straight plug, while the plug going to the pedalboard is fitted with an angled plug.

          Carefully select which side of the snake you are going to work on first, so you don’t use the wrong plugs for the chosen side. At first we are going to solder straight plug.

          • Feed the cable through the Neutrik’s black plastic back cover.
          • For a straight Neutrik-plug take off about one centimetre.
          • For an angled Neutrik connector strip off 2-3 cm.
          • Take the outer copper mesh (ground/earth) to one side of the cable and twirl it into a braid.
          • Remove the black graphite foil around the hot conductor. You can do this with a fingernail, or by very careful use of a knife or wire stripper.
              • Tin all stripped conductor ends quickly and decidedly. The soldering iron’s tip should only touch the conductor’s stripped off surface. Heat the copper for about two seconds and touch the surface with your tin. The tin should start to flow immediately. Quickly remove the iron and let the conductor cool off without moving the cable.
                • You can use an old effect pedal or DI-box as a third hand, simply by plugging the disassembled plug in. If you’re planning on soldering dozens of plugs, you could even use a battered old patch bay – or any other unused piece of equipment with lots of jack sockets – for the job.
                • After this phase it is advisable to do a mock-fitting of the soldered joints. Bend the tinned ends of the lead until they sit nicely on the lugs. Plan carefully in which order you will solder the joints.
                • Cut the ground so short that it is impossible for it to touch the tip causing a short.
                • If you have stripped and tinned the tip too long, now would be a good time to cut it to size and to make sure it will reach its corresponding lug.
                • Tin the plug’s soldering surfaces/lugs. If possible, heat the soldering contacts from the opposite side from where you put your soldering tin. Heat the plug’s contacts for two to three seconds before applying the tin. The tin should melt instantly, and you should remove the iron quickly.
                • Join the cable and plug together using the heat iron. Don’t screw on the plug’s cover just yet, keep on soldering until all cables have been joined to their plugs.
                • Generally it’s best to first solder the tip in the middle, wait for it to cool down and then guide the ground in its place with the lead and solder it in its lug. If you have done the mock-fitting beforehand, the ground should reach the lug exactly when you bend the lead down. This way you don’t have to put your fingers near the solder risking a burn.
                      Repeat all necessary steps for the plugs at the other end of your snake. Here is the similar procedure for the angled plug.

                            • Turn off your soldering iron, and put it into its stand to cool off.
                            • Tighten the black plastic back covers, which are part of a Neutrik-plug’s strain relief. Use the company’s gray special tool for this job, which is a good investment, if you plan on making more cables. Otherwise, I’d recommend using thin gloves to give you the necessary torque.

                                Assembling AC-connectors

                                AC-connectors use crimping ferrules for connecting the cables to the contacts. These ferrules are squeezed tight with a pair of Custom Boards Crimping Tool.


                                The pliers come with an assortment of different ferrules, which will last you through this pedalboard project.

                                The AC-connectors used to power pedalboards:

                                – The AC power cable plugs into a wall outlet with a regular Schuko-plug (CEE 7/7).

                                – The power cable connects to the pedalboard’s power supply unit with either a regular IEC-plug (IEC C13, Voodoo Lab and T-Rex).


                                – Or a cloverleaf IEC C5 connector (Cioks). This connector is not sold separately. If you use a Cioks power supply, you can use a cable with a cloverleaf connector.

                                 

                                – The third option is IEC C7, also known as figure-8 or shotgun connector, which, too, is not available as a replacement part. If you are using T-Rex FuelTank Junior or Voodoo Lab Pedal Power X4 power supplies in your pedalboard you can order a longer ungrounded AC-cable for your cable snake.

                                At Custom Boards we use a wire stripping tool for AC cords.


                                This is due to the thicker gauges and different insulation materials used in power cables.

                                It is advisable to proceed slowly, and deal with each end of your power cord separately to avoid any mess-ups. Check that the backline-facing end of your snake will get the Schuko-plug, while the board-facing side gets the IEC-plug.

                                The power cable contains three colour-coded conductors.

                                • The yellow/green conductor (⏚=ground/earth) goes in the middle terminal when looking from above.
                                • The brown goes to the left (L=live).
                                • The blue (N=neutral) connects to the right terminal.

                                The most important thing to keep in mind is that the ground (earth) wire – coded yellow/green – is always connected to the middle port. The polarity coming off the wall changes according to which way around you plug into the outlet. This means that theoretically the brown and blue conductors can be attached either way inside the connector, as long as the connection is tight.

                                Should you feel the slightest bit unsure about connecting AC-connectors, please contact us and we can do the job for you!

                                • Feed the cable through the connector’s plastic cover.
                                • Strip the black outer insulation off at a length of four centimetres. Then strip the three conductors (brown, blue and yellow/green) at a length of about one cm. Before you proceed, check the remaining insulation for any cracks or cuts.
                                • Straighten the thin copper strands of each conductor into a neat bunch, but don’t twirl them into braids, like we did with the signal cable conductors.
                                • Feed each conductor into the right crimp ferrule (0.75 mm diameter). The copper strands must be inserted fully into the ferrules with no copper hanging out. Please be very thorough with this.
                                • Press each ferrule tightly onto the conductor, using the 0,75 mm part of the crimping pliers.


                                  • Pull on the ferrules to check for tightness.
                                  • Screw the connector’s terminal open, and connect each conductor according to their codes:

                                  IEC Connector

                                  The yellow/green conductor (⏚=ground/earth) goes in the middle terminal when looking from above. The brown goes to the left (L=live) and blue (N=neutral) connects to the right terminal.

                                  • Tighten the terminal screws. Then pull on each conductor to check for a tight fit. The ferrules must not pop out under any circumstances.

                                  Try to fit the cable into the connector in such a way that the conductors are positioned in a gentle slope, with the curve pushing the ferrules in the direction of the terminals. The conductors should not be pulled straight and tight. Leave the yellow/green conductor long enough, that it will be the last one to take stress, if cable stress relief happens to fail for some reason.



                                    • Place the plastic cover in its place and tighten the strain relief.
                                    • Screw the connector shut, making sure none of the conductors are pinched or damaged by the screw.
                                    • Put two rounds of electrical tape around the IEC-connector. The tape will add additional grip to keep the connector in place, once it’s plugged into the PSU.

                                      How to assemble a Neutrik PowerCON for the mains AC cable

                                      Schuko connector

                                      Connecting your AC cable works the same way in Schuko- and IEC-plugs, because their build is similar mechanically.


                                      Attaching the cable snake to the pedalboard

                                      Choosing when to attach the cable snake to the pedalboard depends on where exactly all the different outputs are situated on your board, and if they’re still visible once all pedals are in place.

                                      This guide is written with a pedalboard in mind that gives you easy access to all connectors even with the pedals in place, which is why we attach the snake at this point of the project.

                                      A cable snake is like the finishing touch to a board, especially when attached last, which gives you the opportunity to disconnect the snake, or modify it, without having to touch any of the patch cabling.

                                      Think where do you usually stand on stage? If you’re standing to the left (from the drummer’s viewpoint) it’s called Stage Left, and this means your cable snake should leave your board from its left side.

                                      • Roll back enough of the cable sock at the board-facing end of the snake, so that you will be able to route the different cables neatly on the pedalboard frame.
                                      • Make a quick sketch of how the different cables will need to be spread across the frame to get to their connectors – either on top or beneath the board.
                                      • Connect all signal cables, along with possible cables for MIDI or channel switching. Use the same Safety Clips for attachment that you’ve used for the patch cables, to attach and secure the cables to the frame.
                                      • Once you’re satisfied all the cables are secured correctly, roll back the cable sock until it ends up a few centimetres inside the frame’s outer edge.

                                      Heat-shrink tubing or electrician’s tape?

                                      We don’t use heat-shrink tubing for our cable snakes, because it makes later adjustments to the snake's placement more difficult. We use a pro-grade, slightly vulcanizing black electrical tape manufactured by 3M. This tape is easy to roll onto the snake tightly, and it makes for a very neat look when trimmed with scissors. Additionally, this tape is extremely easy to peel off and reapply, should the need arise.

                                      • Tighten the cable sock’s end – the last few centimetres – around the snake’s cables using electrician’s tape.
                                      • A cable snake can build up a surprising amount of torque, which makes it very important to install it in such a way that keeps the flow of the snake natural.
                                      • Usually the clips’ own adhesive needs 24 hours to settle completely. In some instances the clips will need some additional help provided by a drop of superglue.
                                      • Cut off the cable ties right next to their locks, and make sure no sharp edges stick out.

                                      Attaching the cable snake fixedly with the Safety Anchor set

                                      • When the cables in the snake are attached to the board in their own places, place the snake against the bottom of the pedalboard so that the pedalboard end of the cable sock goes under the board for about 5 cm.
                                      • Attach three Safety Anchors to the board side by side and slide the cable ties into them.
                                      • Tape up the end of the cable snake for the length of the bit that goes past the Anchors.
                                      • Attach the snake with the cable ties.

                                      If the snake is thick, you can also attach the Safety Anchors by clipping two pieces of the black 3M Dual Lock tape of the length of the three Anchors and attaching the Anchors with it. Thus the Anchors are unlikely to ever come out by itself, because the glue in the 3M Dual Lock is much stronger than the one in the Safety Clips.

                                      The glue takes time to gain its full adherence, so it might be a good idea to use for instance the cable ties that came with the pedalboard or a clamp or a vice of some kind to secure the attachment to the pedal board for the time the glue in the Safety Anchors or in the 3M Dual Lock dries. Usually 24 hours is enough for this. If you’re okay aesthetically with the extra cable ties you can always leave them in permanently.

                                      Attaching the cable snake to the Amp or cabinet

                                        Next you should finish the cable snake’s amp-facing end. Roll back enough of the cable sock for your AC-cable to reach the floor, and for all other cables to get to their connectors without any strain or pull on any of the connectors.

                                        If possible, leave the sock slightly loose around the cables – it will make rolling up the snake much easier. Additionally, this will also add more protection to the cables inside the snake, as the sock’s own movement will help dissipate some of the pressure put on the snake.

                                        • Tighten the sock’s end around the cables in the same way as on the board-facing end.
                                        • Secure the loop with a cable tie.
                                        • Cut off the surplus cable tie right next to the tie’s lock. Don’t leave any sharp edges.

                                          We supply a second cable tie alongside our Safety Strap set, in case you don’t succeed during the first pass, or if you ever have to open the amp-facing side of your loop to allow for changes in your amp configuration, or the amp’s height.

                                          Color coding cable snake cables

                                          You should mark the different cables in your cable loom, using fluorescent Pro Gaff tape.

                                          You could choose this method:
                                          • Mark a plug with one colour, then search for the other end of the same cable, measure it, and mark it with the same colour. Repeat this process with all the other cables in the loom, using different colours. You can also use a marker pen to write on the pieces of tape.

                                          Make sure you use the same colours for the opposite ends of one cable. There are five different Pro Gaff colours available, but you can also use combinations of two or three tapes for additional options.

                                          We use the following abbreviations:


                                            GTR – guitar cable
                                            
AMP – amp cable going to the amp’s input 

                                            FS – footswitch for channel switching etc.

                                            IP – input; the board’s input
                                            
OP – output; the board’s output
                                            
S – send; FX loop send
                                            
R – return; FX loop return 

                                            SPK – speaker cable

                                            WRL – wireless; cable or coming from the wireless system



                                            You can also come up with similar abbreviations that work for your requirements. You can also draw arrows to mark the signal flow of critical cables. The most important thing to remember is that you use the same colours and abbreviations on both ends of the same cable, and that you keep your markings logical and legible.

                                            *****

                                            SHOULD YOU, FOR ANY REASON, decide not to finish your pedalboard yourself, let us put the finishing touches on your pedalboard with the parts you have purchased from us. This way, nothing will have gone to waste.

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